This isn’t exactly revolutionary or insightful to point out, but selling skills are pretty important when it comes to selling skillfully — and if you want to be an adept and effective salesperson, you need to do exactly that. So it’s always in your best interest to consistently learn, grow, and bolster your sales skillset.
But where should you start? What skills should you prioritize? What exercises can help you get there? And what are the most important themes to keep in mind when improving how you sell? We’ll answer all of those questions and more in this article.
It might sound obvious, but you can’t conduct successful sales efforts without having at least basic selling skills. You need to know how to source information on prospects, communicate with them effectively, and craft enticing value propositions if you want to make it in the field.
The best sales efforts involve a lot of thoughtfulness, engaging rhetoric, and a personal touch. You want your prospects to know you’ve thoroughly considered their needs, understand where they’re coming from, and sincerely believe that the solution you’re selling is the one that will work best for them.
Covering all of those bases leans on your ability to nail some essential selling skills — here’s a look at seven of the most important ones every salesperson should have a grip on.
1. Leading With Empathy
Every sale should be inherently buyer-centric — a process where you, as a salesperson, take on a helpful, consultative role to help improve your prospect’s life or business with your product or service.
Corny as this might sound, the best salespeople don’t sell purely for the sake of selling — they sell because they believe their product or service is the best solution to fit their prospects’ needs and interests.
You can’t reach that frame of mind without demonstrating empathy — taking the time to consider your prospect’s circumstances, focusing on relationship building, and staying mindful of how your prospects are feeling to inform how you pace your sales efforts.
Ultimately, you need to be conscious of the fact that you’re engaging with real people, so always maintain a human element with every sale. You should want to solve for the prospect more than you want to sell to them.
2. Staying True to Your Sales Process
Sales is both an art and a science, and effective sales efforts are the result of striking an appropriate balance between the two. So while you should be able to demonstrate some “artistic” finesse and think on your feet, your approach should be underscored by some “scientific” discipline.
Your org has a sales process in place for a reason. Very few — if any — successful companies set their salespeople loose and say, “Figure it out as you go.” If you want to consistently conduct efforts that deliver the results you’re looking for, you have to abide by some sort of structure.
Understand your organization’s process, and stick to its steps — you can add your personal touch within its boundaries. Sales will always require some degree of direction, and that “direction” is generally a byproduct of how well you can adhere to your sales process.
3. Accurately Depicting the Purchasing Process
Being able to set and meet reasonable expectations with buyers is central to building trust and establishing productive relationships — that starts with you being upfront about the nature of the purchasing process as a sale progresses.
Honesty and integrity won’t be lost on prospects. Like a number of other points on this list, this one rests on the value of sincerity and the merit of taking a consultative approach to selling. Again, every sale should revolve around helping the prospect — above all else.
If you mislead them about what the purchasing process looks like, what features they’ll have access to, or how much they’re ultimately going to pay for your offering, you’ll undermine your credibility and potentially lose out on a deal during the home stretch.
Make sure you can back up every promise you make, and be as clear as possible about what they’re getting at the price point they purchase at. If you don’t, you run the risk of bringing on a disgruntled customer that will churn quickly, vocalize their frustrations, and hurt your reputation down the line.
4. Conducting Effective Buyer Research
You can’t appeal to a buyer if you have no idea who they are, what they do, and what their business needs might be. If you want to successfully engage with a prospect, you need to have most — if not all — of those factors drilled down.
That starts with conducting extensive buyer research, and the best salespeople know what to look for, where to look for it, and how to effectively analyze those findings. Pore through your prospect’s company website. Learn everything you can about what their business does.
Try to find insight into how their organization is performing. Familiarize yourself with its industry, so you can better understand its place in its competitive landscape. See if you can find out which solutions it’s currently leveraging.
Do some research on the specific contact you’ll be speaking with. What’s their background like? What do they do at their company? Can you identify any interests they might have to help you build rapport?
Try to address as many angles as possible here. Put together a holistic picture of your prospect and their business, and start to tailor your communication to best connect with them — whether that be through something like a personalized gift, some industry-specific insight, or any other way you can think of to let them know you’re locked in on their interests.
5. Developing Extensive Product Knowledge
You can’t sell a product or service effectively if you don’t know it inside and out. Understanding everything there is to understand about your offering informs other key elements of your sales efforts.
You can’t anticipate or handle objections if you don’t know the issues prospects consistently raise about your product or service’s functionality. You can’t structure an effective value proposition if you don’t know what kind of value your product or service can offer. You can’t differentiate yourself from your competitors if you don’t know the features your offering has that theirs don’t.
Take the time to thoroughly study your product or service. Know what makes it an exceptional option and where it might lag behind competitors. Know who stands to gain the most from it. Know what it costs and why it costs that much. Know its every last feature, bell, and whistle.
Know all of that and more. If you can develop extensive product knowledge, you’ll be in a better position to craft thoughtful, personalized value propositions that prospects will be receptive to. That, in itself, is the key to conducting effective sales efforts.
6. Being a Compelling Storyteller
Communication with prospects needs to be engaging if it’s going to be effective. You want your buyer to have a personal stake in the sale — and using compelling storytelling to shape your pitches, presentations, and other correspondence with them helps that case.
Know some relevant case studies front to back — and leverage those stories to help your prospect imagine how they would use your product or service. Be sure to cover elements like character, context, conflict, and an ultimate resolution.
Say you represent an edtech startup that sells a platform for automating curriculum management and classroom assignments. Right now, you’re presenting to a mid-size community college that relies on outdated legacy software to handle those processes. In that case, you wouldn’t just want to tout your platform’s bells and whistles or throw numbers at your prospect.
You might tell a story like, “Earlier this year, we sold our solution to Drollinger College — a community college around your size in Colorado that had a similar tech stack. I keep in touch with the administrator, Emma, and the head of IT, Shawna. They were initially reluctant to move on from their legacy system because they thought the transition and growing pains from implementing a cloud-based curriculum planning solution might not be worth the trouble.
“But when we took a comprehensive look at the amount of money that went into fixing errors that stemmed from mostly manual curriculum planning and inefficient classroom assignments. They warmed up to the idea of giving our platform a shot.
“Shawna told me that they were shocked at how seamless and simple the implementation process was — in large part because our customer success and support teams are so active in guiding the implementation process. And about a month after they were fully operational, Emma actually emailed me and said, ‘Where were you all my life? I just wish we had found you sooner.’
Since starting with us nine months ago, the school has already improved average degree velocity by 20%. They’re expecting to save $25,000 from streamlining curriculum scheduling this year alone, and they haven’t received a single complaint from professors about classroom scheduling.”
7. Demonstrating Potential Return on Investment
You need to paint a clear, persuasive, and believable picture of the results a purchase will yield when engaging with prospects. If you’re selling expensive software with a traditionally lengthy implementation period, be sure to convey the hard benefits of making that kind of investment of time and capital.
Case studies, data from your client base, and your own estimates — based on information your prospect gives you — can help you paint a more vivid picture than simply saying something like, “This is worth it because it will save you time.”
It’s also helpful to connect current customers with your prospects for an unvarnished opinion of your product or service. Positive reviews from an engaged customer base have been proven to have significant sway on new prospects’ decision-making — in fact, a recent study by BrightLocal showed positive reviews make 73% of consumers trust local businesses more.
Selling Skills Exercises
Selling skills exercises include a variety of games, activities, and training methods that can help reps bolster the stronger elements of their sales acumen and develop the ones that need some work.
Some prominent, engaging examples include:
- Sell Me This Pen: This famous (or infamous) exercise involves having reps try to sell a trainer — acting as a prospect — an obscure object. The point is to tease out a need from that “prospect” themselves before providing a solution. It helps reps learn to convey return on investment and can potentially improve their storytelling skills.
- Match Game: If your business sells multiple products or services, make a list of the key ones. Then, write out quick scenarios where a potential customer would benefit from each one. Shuffle both lists and have salespeople match the problem to the solution. This helps reps develop product knowledge and understand how to piece together an effective value proposition.
- What’s a … ?: This game works particularly well for newer reps. Once they’ve been onboarded, inform them that the rest of the company might approach them at random and ask them what your company, product, or service does. Upon being asked, the reps need to provide a clear, concise, compelling answer that addresses the question and conveys value. This can help them accrue product knowledge and demonstrate ROI.
There’s a host of other games and exercises you can engage in to improve either your team or personal performance. For more information on those, check out this article.
Selling Skills Used to Engage Customers
The list of skills detailed in this article is far from exhaustive. You, as a salesperson, need to consistently identify and work on areas for improvement as they become obvious — learn from every sale and incorporate the lessons that come with your experience into your broader sales repertoire.
The underlying theme of every skill you can develop is this: Engage your prospects. And that theme can manifest itself in a lot of ways. Conducting extensive buyer research enables you to engage your prospects with more pointed outreach and pitches.
Being a compelling storyteller makes your communication more engaging by nature. Leading with empathy allows you to engage potential customers through more personal appeals. And every other point detailed here follows that same trend.
Do what you can to develop and hone your selling skills. Building up your sales acumen is an indefinite process, so always be mindful of what you could be doing better and act on that insight whenever you can.